Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Roanoke Striped Bass

They say fishing takes patience and perseverance. As I have neither, mule-headed stubbornness will simply have to do. Without it, Tim (who does have the right stuff) and I would have missed one of the most exciting 30 minutes of fishing I have had in a long time.

Tim, the tall, lanky bedrock of our TU community, kindly invited me along for a trip on the Roanoke River, a tremendous fishery for shad and striped bass located about 2 hours north of Durham, just below the Virginia-North Carolina border, flowing out of Lake Gaston. Always looking for a new experience, I jumped at the chance to try a little deeper water fly fishing. As I spend most of my time chasing shallow river shoal largemouths, handling a sink tipped line and heavy clausers took a little getting used to and reinforced the knowledge of just how diverse our sport can be. Tim helped me tremendously and, in particular, showed me the water haul, a technique that has you allow your backcast to briefly settle on the water in order to provide drag resistance to load your rod rather than keeping a lot of heavy line in the air. It ain’t pretty, but it’s definitely effective.

We got afloat about 9:00 and shared the river with a number of other boats; more than I had expected for a Tuesday morning. Most of the anglers were using spinning gear, though we did see an occasional fly fisherman, but not many. Throughout the day, we moved up and down a three mile stretch of river, consistently about 80 yards wide and 15-20 feet deep, dragging large clausers, 3/0 – 5/0, along the bottom. Within the first hour and a half, Tim and I each landed a striper, my first ever, and Tim long line released a third. Nothing big, 18-22 inches, but amazingly strong fish that dig in when hooked. No long runs; just drag your heels, walk you around the boat stubbornness. Fun fish on a 7 or 8wt fly rod.

The restrictions on keeping fish on the Roanoke are pretty tight right now. All fish under 19 inches must be released, two fish 19 to 22 inches could be kept per angler, 23 to 27 inchers must be released (spawning size), and two fish over 27 could be kept. Most fish we saw caught, including our own, ran in the 18 to 20 inch range, making deciding what could be kept and what couldn’t a little difficult. Us catch and release guys didn’t worry about it.

Now comes the stubbornness part. After landing that first couple, we went about 6 hours without a fish, and with very few strikes. Our plan had not been to stay the entire day but the previous day’s rain had freed me up from soccer commitments and Tim rescheduled a doctors appointment (from his cell phone on the river) and we, without really talking about it, just kept fishing. There’s something about not catching anything that makes you work that much harder.

And we knew they were down there. The Wildlife Commission guys were on the river, surveying fish with their “shock boats”; jolting a section of water surrounding their craft and scooping up the stunned fish, measuring them, and returning them as they revived. It was frustrating to catch nothing along a stretch and then watch the shock boat raise a dozen big fish where you just left. The boys said the biggest they brought up that day had been 30 pounds. That would have been a horse.

Seven hours of nothing, though good companionship makes the time flow pretty well. It was a gorgeous day, blue sky and light spring breezes. Perfect for lazy floating. We even just sat and jigged for a while, soaking up the surroundings, picking clams off the clausers occasionally when we felt them bumping the bottom a little harder.

But at precisely 5:25, Tim hung a striper. And his next cast, another, and two more in the next 4 casts. At least I think it was 4 casts. I was too busy scrambling around the boat for a twin of the red and blue clauser that was getting hammered. Once found, I was catching them too and for the next 30 minutes or so we boated about a dozen bass. The spin gear guys sitting near us could only watch and shake their heads.

And then it stopped as quickly s it started. But that was okay with us; the day was complete. We rode back as a light rain began, loaded the boat and hit the road for home, stopping only for a barbeque sandwich and a cold soda. Simple, good life.

My sincere thanks to Tim for the invitation and the fine day fishing. You’re a patient and effective teacher. I learned a lot on the Roanoke today and had a darn good time doing it.

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